It is safe to say that I feel a daily sense of pride for the work our staff and students do; I am enormously grateful for all that I learn from them. With a mission that charges us to develop students who are intellectually curious, courageous, and compassionate, we should expect to be learning a lot from them.
Over the last week I have been thinking a lot about leadership. Not just because it is the time of the year when our incoming Grad leaders are elected by the student body and staff, but also because I am constantly reminded of how much we learn from those who lead. While there are particular titles and responsibilities that denote leaders, I believe that anyone can lead and, in our case, that ALL of our students are leaders in their own rights.
This past weekend St. Clement’s School hosted an outstanding Anti-Oppression: Committing to Justice conference, with great thanks to the superb leadership of staff members Ana Fonseca and Aparna Singhal, and all our student and staff volunteers. Over 200 participants from 18 schools across Canada gathered virtually, with teams comprised of Board members, school administration, faculty and staff, students, and alum to talk about anti-oppression work and how to drive it forward. The structure of this conference was powerful, because along with being able to gather with colleagues with similar responsibilities, it put the voices and perspectives of our students at its centre.
The words of our two keynote speakers, Nadine Sookermany and Dr. Anne Lopez, confirmed the importance of listening, particularly to our students.
As Ms Sookermany, community activist, parent, partner, and Executive Director of Fife House reminded us, “If the students are guiding us on the path, follow them”; educators, particularly white leaders and educators, must “Step back, make space and listen; don’t be defensive and be open to learning.”
Further, Dr. Anne Lopez, professor of educational leadership and policy and Director of Leadership and Diversity at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, reminded us, “We should not be declaring whether a space is safe but, rather, allow those in our spaces to let us know whether they feel safe. If spaces are safe, they can transition to brave spaces where people can genuinely learn, unlearn, and wrestle with ideas so that change can come.” Anti-oppression work “was never about ‘us versus them’ but has been positioned as such by those with power and privilege who fear losing it. Let’s not forget that this is really about equity and should be treated as such.”
As the conference neared its conclusion, student and alum participants shared their experiences at our independent schools, and their desires to make them more equitable spaces, where justice can be reached. They were passionate and articulate about what they believe must happen in order to ensure our independent schools are more equitable for all.
It is our students (and our alum) who are our guides. They are the leaders, and we must follow them.